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How to use Spoken Menus on your 4G iPod Nano

Donald Bell offers a step-by-step tutorial on how to use the spoken menus feature of the fourth generation Apple iPod Nano.

Image of fourth generation Apple iPod Nano.

If you're visually impaired or legally blind, living in the age of the MP3 player can be frustrating. Small screens, tiny fonts, complicated menus, and imprecise controls make the majority of MP3 players very difficult to use. Until now, visually impaired users often resorted to counting scroll wheel clicks and memorizing menus, or installing and configuring third-party firmware, such as the open source Rockbox (a project not recommended for the technologically timid).

Now playing: Watch this: Make your iPod talk to you

By adding a Spoken Menus feature to their fourth-generation iPod Nano, Apple is one of the first manufacturers to dramatically improve the usability of their MP3 players for vision-impaired users. The iPod Nano's "spoken menus" option literally speaks menu and song selections to you in a synthesized voice, making it possible to navigate your iPod completely by sound. For this MP3 Insider tip, we'll go step-by-step through the process of activating the iPod Nano's spoken menus and tweaking them to your taste. There's also a video version of this how-to offered to the right of this paragraph.

Here are the steps involved for setting up your fourth-generation iPod Nano for spoken menus.

Image of iTunes 8 iPod summary window.

1. Setting up iTunes
Connect your iPod to your computer, launch iTunes 8, and select your iPod from the left pane. The main iTunes window should now be a summary page for your iPod with a few checkbox options near the bottom of the window. Check off the last option, marked "Enable spoken menus", then hit the Apply button in the lower right corner of iTunes.

It will take a few minutes for your computer to read the contents of your iPod, generate the necessary voice cues, and sync those cues back to your iPod.

Image of checkbox options within iTunes 8 with arrow pointing to the enable spoken menus option.

2. Tweaking your voice settings
If you're not happy with the sound of the voice used for spoken menus you can change the character and the speed of the voice. To change the default voice on Windows XP, go to Settings in the Start Menu, select Control Panel and then select Speech. By default, Windows users only have one voice, called Microsoft Sam, but additional voices can be installed. Under voice type, there's a bar to define the speed of the voice.

Image of the Speech properties window found in the Windows XP operating system.

Mac users have over 20 voices included by default under Mac OS 10. You can find your Mac's voice settings by going to System Preferences from the Apple menu, and locating the Speech icon. Same as Windows, you can adjust the type of voice and the playback speed.

Image of Speech control panel in Apple OS 10.

In theory, iTunes should detect when you've made changes to your system's speech settings and reload your iPod Nano with new voice files the next time it's connected, however, in Windows XP, we could only get the new voice settings to take after doing an iPod firmware restore through iTunes. Under Mac, system-voice changes seemed to take immediately.

3. Check your iPod settings
After enabling spoken menus through iTunes, you should be able to hear the voice cues on your iPod right away. If you don't, check the Settings menu of your iPod, click on General, and you should find an option for turning spoken menus on and off.

That's all there is to it. For those of you who've already configured your computer's voice to suit your taste, step one may be all it takes to get the desired result. If you have any other tips on improving MP3 player accessibility, please share them in the comments section below.